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Research Report

Linking Social Movements: How International Networks Can Better Support Community Action about Forests

Eva Wollenberg
Marcus Colchester
Georgina Mbugua
Tom Griffiths
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2005
Pages: 18
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    How can international networks effectively support social movements? In 2003, CIFOR reviewed the experiences of nine international networks in community forestry in seven countries to reflect upon the lessons they had learned over the last two decades (Colchester et al. 2003).¹ The study found that networks have contributed to community forestry through sharing information, building awareness and providing resources or services to national groups. By bringing together strategies and experiences from around the world, the networks increased awareness of community forestry in global circles and created space for communities to assert their rights. The networks contributed to a social movement...

  2. (pp. 3-7)

    Two networks participated in the follow-up work: the World Rainforest Movement, (WRM), a global network of citizen’s groups based in Montevideo, Uruguay, and the Forest Action Network (FAN), a regional network based in Nairobi with a focus on eastern Africa. The networks each received USD 10,000 and conducted the work from about March to September 2004.

    WRM was initiated in the mid-1980s and aims to provide an alternative voice to “official” forest processes to enable civil society and forest dwellers’ to better defend their rights from threats such as commercial logging, mining, plantations, and shrimp farming. The network shares information,...

  3. (pp. 8-8)

    How did an international network make a difference in each of these cases? What was their comparative advantage compared to other networks or organizations? Our review of the limited number of experiences above suggests at least five functions that international networks had in working with local groups:

    Funding people to get together – The WRM cases showed the value of bringing people together to exchange information and develop strategies together. The local networks had the power to convene the groups necessary. WRM contributed the funds, resource people and sometimes the initiative. Local groups often lack the contacts and experience to...

  4. (pp. 9-9)

    If the synergies between international networks and local social movements are so valuable, why do they so rarely occur? First, some international networks do not see it as their mandate to work with local groups. They feel they can have more of an impact working through focal points and larger scale organizations that have a wider reach. This has been the conventional wisdom among many international groups and may well be the more efficient and practical choice. The gains to be made on both sides suggest, however, that some international groups need to link more closely with local groups.


  5. (pp. 10-10)

    What lessons do these few experiences suggest for international networks? Acknowledging that networks have different mandates and histories, it will not be appropriate for every international group to try to “close the gap” by working more closely with local groups. As we indicate above, however, this can make it more difficult for them to know local priorities and can increase their irrelevance in the eyes of national or local groups.

    For those who do see value in linking to the local level, the experiences here suggest the need to:

    Create opportunities for face-to-face contacts

    Use the links to facilitate exchange...

  6. (pp. 11-11)

    We have summarized here the experiences WRM and FAN in Peru, Brazil, India and Kenya in seeking to support local communities’ interests about forest issues. The experiences show that international networks can link to the local level when they want to and have a significant and strategic impact. In these cases, workshops and collaborative strategizing were a more efficient intervention than developing new technological options (computers and internet services) in terms of time and funds used relative to the impact achieved. Network effectiveness may require a careful balance between linking to versus working at the local level. WRM’s experience supports...